A new cross-party MPs report has called for a change in the law to end blanket bans on care home visits.
The report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights calls on the government to make the existing requirement for individualised assessment for visits mandatory as soon as possible.
The Committee has prepared a draft statutory instrument to present to Parliament to secure legal protection for care home residents deprived of family visits.
Committee Chair Harriet Harman MP said: “The government has listened to recommendations from this Committee and other that restrictions on visiting rights must be only be implemented on the basis of an individualised risk assessment which takes into account the risks to the resident’s physical and mental wellbeing of not having visits. By not underpinning this guidance in law, care homes have not felt bound by it and important rights have therefore not been respected.
“The Care Quality Commission assurances that visits are being allowed properly now in all homes is wholly unconvincing. Because care homes see guidance about allowing visits as advisory rather than binding, the government must now bring forward regulations to give their guidance on visits legal force.”
Helen Wildbore, Director of the Relatives & Residents Association, told CHP: “Too many families are afraid to challenge these barriers with the care provider for fear of reprisals, including eviction. We’ve been calling for the Care Quality Commission to step up and take a proactive role in monitoring compliance with the guidance. We agree with the JCHR that the regulator needs to “get a grip” on what’s going on in care homes. Older people in care have been let down by the systems designed to protect their human rights, this must change urgently.”
Minister for Care Helen Whately said: “I know how difficult the last year has been for people in care homes who are among those most at risk from COVID-19. Residents can now leave their care home to spend time outdoors, for instance to visit a park or garden, without having to self-isolate upon their return. This is another significant step towards normal life and is being taken in a way that will help protect care homes from the continued risk of COVID-19.
“We recognise that every care home has a unique layout, physical environment and facilities, and residents have their own individual health and wellbeing needs, which is why care homes themselves are best placed to decide how to enable visiting safely.”
Kate Terroni, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at CQC, told us: “The past year has been heart-breaking for so many who have lost loved ones, but also for those who have been unable to see family and friends in care homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been clear throughout the pandemic that the individual must be at the centre of decisions around visiting. Blanket approaches to visiting are unacceptable and may trigger an inspection.
“We have sought assurances from care home providers about how they are supporting visiting to happen and we are verifying this information when we go out and inspect. We have a mandatory question on each of our care home inspections which looks at how visiting is being supported to happen in a safe way and over the last eight weeks we’ve undertaken 941 inspections. We have found that 95% were enabling visiting to happen, and action was taken with those 5% of providers where we were somewhat assured or not assured.
“Concerns have been raised with us about 30 potential blanket bans and we have taken action in every case, including following up with providers, inspecting, raising safeguarding alerts where appropriate and following up with local authorities. We expect providers to follow government guidance on visiting where people are entitled to have designated visitors, and where we are made aware that this is not happening we will follow up with the provider and inspect if we consider that there is risk.”